He hitchhiked from the Iron Range to Sioux City, Iowa, where he danced in front of Lawrence Welk's band. He signed up to play football for Bear Bryant and co-existed at Morningside College with George Allen.

When he experimented with smoking, the brand was Bull Durham, and the only time he remembers drinking excessively was the night he was stationed in Manila with the Air Force and the United States bombed Hiroshima.

Steve Kerzie has met some fascinating historical figures, and on the Iron Range, he has become one.

In a couple of weeks, this 89-year-old argument against forced retirement will work his 64th consecutive state high school track and field meet as either a coach or an official.

"In my book, the most important thing in coaching is that you make a man out of a boy and a nice lady out of a girl," Kerzie said. "Teach them to say 'Yes' and 'Thank you,' and 'Please.' Sometimes that's more important than winning a gol dang game."

The man has track and cross-country meets named after him, belongs to four Minnesota sports halls of fame (including those honoring coaches, referees and athletic directors), and is a member of the Morningside College Hall of Fame.

Kerzie starred in four sports at Chisholm High, then signed on to play football at Vanderbilt under a freshman coach named Paul Bryant. "I was at Vandy for two weeks," Kerzie said. "He was rough, and great. After two weeks, I went to enter the school, and I didn't have enough math credits, so I came back and the coach from Morningside was here, and I said I'd like to go, but where the hell is it?"

It's located in Sioux City, Iowa. Kerzie didn't have much money, so he'd hitchhike to and from school. He was lucky it didn't cost much to hear an upstart band leader play.

"I played football, basketball and track," Kerzie said. "If I had a weekend off we'd go down to the dance hall and dance all night long. Lawrence Welk was just starting his orchestra there.

"We didn't have enough money to buy a hamburger for a girl, so we didn't have girls back then. Plus, our coach told us not to go with girls because if we kissed them, they'd get pregnant. So we were afraid of them."

After college, Kerzie began working with the FBI. When World War II broke out, he found himself in Manila.

"I flew for a while," he said. "I got grounded because I lost hearing in one ear. As I told people when I was refereeing games, I'm deaf in one ear and I can't hear out of the other.

"Of course, when you're a ref, you're blind, deaf and dumb.

"I was a company first lieutenant. The night we bombed Hiroshima, the boys wanted me to drink, and I ended up in the hospital for about two days. I didn't drink much before and I didn't drink much after that."

His training with the FBI "didn't appeal" to him so when he returned to the states, he became a coach at Gilbert High School, and eventually an athletic director.

"He did those jobs for 30, 40 years," said his daughter, Deanna Kerzie, who now teaches and coaches in the same building where her father worked. "He coached football, basketball, track, baseball, cross country. When girls sports started, he started the girls' basketball program.

"He did it all and taught full-time and never missed a day of work. Well, that's not exactly true. He missed work only when his sister had polio and he had to be quarantined.

"He taught until he was 75. These days, he jumps up in the morning, and if his name isn't in the obituaries, he's off and running."

Kerzie officiated thousands of football, basketball and track events.

"I never called a technical," he said. "I'd say, 'Let 'em holler.' If they complained about a call, I'd put my fingers close together and say, 'I missed it by that much.' I was a joker. I used to like it when they said they had seen better eyes on a potato and better legs on a piano."

These days, he attends as many events as his balky legs will allow.

"The kids are great," he said. "I wish more people would give these young people credit, because there is no such thing as a bad kid.

"I'll tell you another thing -- I never regretted living in a small town. You know all the kids, and when they come back as adults they come up and say, 'Thank you, coach Steve.' What more can you ask for than that?"

Jim Souhan can be heard at 10-noon Sunday on AM-1500. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com